Turtle Farm: Saddled with debt, saddling up turtles

The Cayman Turtle Farm had a big idea – and a bad idea: train green sea turtles, starting with a female named “Myrtle,” to give rides to visitors in the water.

So read a news story that appeared on the front page of Monday’s Compass. The Turtle Farm pursued, in earnest and utilizing staff resources, a plan where turtles would approach visitors and allow them to hold on to their shells for “turtle-back rides.”

It requires only a modest exercise of the imagination to envision how this particular proposal might have come about. It’s a classic case of “Keeping up with the Joneses.” Turtle Farm staff members, no doubt, can’t help but notice how their neighbor (and rival) across the road, Dolphin Discovery, is continually attracting throngs of tourists at premium prices and thus is thriving financially. The following train of thought might ensue: “Well, what do they got that we haven’t got? Financial discipline? … Private sector ingenuity? … The flexibility to adapt to free market conditions? … Hold the phone – Dolphin rides! Of course!”

A neuron fires. A synapse is bridged. A light bulb illuminates.

When the Turtle Farm’s former head animal trainer Amy Souster was told of the grand scheme, she reacted thusly: “I physically laughed,” she related to a Compass reporter. “I kept waiting for them to say they were joking.”

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However, they were not joking. According to our news story, “[T]he idea was to have two shows a day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, when six visitors could take turns being pulled through the water by the turtle.”

Turtle Farm Managing Director Tim Adam said, “It was so cool to watch, and the people loved it.”

Now, we consider Mr. Adam to be a good man in an untenable position, and as a rule we fully support Mr. Adam as Cayman’s expert-in-all-things-turtle. We make an exception, however, for turtle riding.

It is, precisely as Ms. Souster put it, “a terrible idea.”

The reasons are numerous. We shall pick three.

First – in terms of playfulness of personality, warm-bloodedness, intellect, velocity and grace – turtles aren’t exactly dolphins. To put it one way, if we were to put on a “dinner and a show” starring turtles and dolphins, guess which species would appear on the menu, and which on the playbill. Putting it another way, from an advertising angle, riding a turtle doesn’t exactly have the same zip to it as, say, riding a roller coaster.

Second – salmonella. Like most reptiles, turtles carry salmonella bacteria in their intestinal tracts. That poses a potentially serious health hazard to people (particularly children) who touch turtles, who swim with turtles in enclosed areas, or in the case of turtle-riding, both. (Concern over salmonella transmission is the reason cited by the Turtle Farm in finally, thankfully, nixing the turtle-riding idea.)

Third – animal abuse. We aren’t saying that turtle-riding, inherently, constitutes an abusive practice, but it certainly could appear that way, particularly to animal rights activists such as World Animal Protection, who have the Turtle Farm squarely in their crosshairs as a target for closure. On top of issues of crowding, diet, handling, infection, butchering, etc., the last thing the Turtle Farm needs to do is introduce an unnecessary practice that could further tarnish its less-than-sterling reputation.

Setting all of the above aside, the main conclusion that we draw from this latest effort is not just that turtle-riding is a bad idea, it’s that the Turtle Farm seems all out of good ideas. It is a failed tourist attraction that drains $10 million per year from the public treasury and presents an easy opportunity for those who would malign the image of the Cayman Islands.

From a financial and public relations perspective, the government-owned company is a liability, not an asset.

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  1. What a sad state of affairs for the Turtle Farm.

    I think this article is not only sad, but timely as well, since I often have though that the bright colored commercials seen on local TV advertising the Turtle Farm were a bit discussing.

    Pictures of people swimming around in a tank with live sea turtles is a bit off-putting. After all, if there are concentrations of turtles in a tank with people, who knows what lies in the water. Ugh! Apparently there seems to be a concern of salmonella. I knew something just doesn”t show right in those commercials. Thanks COMPASS for pointing out what it is.

    Sadly, perhaps it is time for government to cut its losses and turn turtle farming over to the private sector. Seems like a good idea, but frankly, it just didn”t work.

  2. FREE THE TURTLES! Charging for riding on turtles? This is demented! Riding upon large old turtles” backs is a cruel and sadistic idea. CLOSE THE TURTLE FARM! Privatize that deteriorated krall site into some sort of amusement fun park that might bring in some welcome income to the Cayman Islands. PS – A perfect place for a world class turtle farm would be on the seafront property, South Side, West End of Cayman Brac, where the old Farquahar house and Brac Reef I and Tiara Beach Resort site has been allowed to go to wrack and ruin by the American owners from North Carolina who shut the hotel down right before Christmas 10 years ago with no notice to many loyal and long-term Brackers who were employed there! That beautiful acreage and abundant sea water could be used to create a wonderful experience for tourists and turtles.

  3. Sad and pathetic. How in the world can someone come up with such a STUPID idea to make more money? A ride on Myrtle the turtle’s back and she gets her back scrubbed? Please! Tim Adam, I thought you had more sense in your head. Obviously not! Another thing, those poor turtles need bigger tanks to swim around more freely. I could go on and on but in the end this will not get printed. Save those Turtles!

  4. I actually feel ashamed to be a Caymanian when I read about these kinds of things.

    Complete and utter disregard for the health/ happiness of these WILD animals. What an awful life they live.

    I for one hope that the Turtle Farm is shunned by tourists and is forced to shut down. Disgraceful that it’s even been going on for this long.